The number of heroin-related deaths in New Jersey is more than three times the national average, according to NJ.com.
In response to this on-going crisis, experts and law enforcement are looking for creative ways to address the issue and help improve the conditions of the opioid epidemic in the state.
Police who encounter a person under the influence of opiates often administer an injection of Narcan — a chemical that reverses the depressive effects of opioids — and then let the person go. But last year the Rutgers Center for Alcohol Studies began working with Frank Greenagel, an expert in heroin and opioid addiction, to train police officers on how to properly and effectively engage with a person suspected to be under the influence of these drugs.
Captain JT Miller of the New Brunswick Police Department said that they have seen an increase in Narcan deployments by officers this past year with 95 doses administered this year to date, but sometimes a single overdose situation requires multiple doses of Narcan to be beneficial.
There are many formulations of Narcan, which is a trade name of the drug Naloxone. Greenagel said that over the last 12 months the number of police departments that utilize Naloxone has increased.
There were more lives saved in the first half of 2017 than in the first half of 2016, but there were also more overdose deaths in that same period.
Greenagel said that Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opiate that is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin and up to 100 times more potent than morphine, killed more people in America than heroin or opioids in 2016 and has led to a huge increase of drug deaths in the state.
“Despite all of our local, county and state efforts, the death rate is climbing and there aren't enough treatment beds,” he said. “Police are dealing with both the direct and indirect fallout from this horrific epidemic. As the State University and a leader in the fields of addiction and health training, Rutgers is well positioned to help address this terrible issue that is hurting the workforce, plugging up emergency rooms and devastating families. I'd argue that Rutgers has a moral obligation to help the police, government and the general public.”
On Nov. 8 and 9, about a dozen officers will attend the second annual training program at the Center for Alcohol Studies and obtain an "Advanced Certificate in Substance Misuse Disorders for Law Enforcement." This training will prepare them for developing and improving police assistance and response programs, training other law enforcement officers and developing more community programs, Greenagel said.
So far, Greenagel’s program has trained over 1,000 officers from 100 different departments in four different states, he said.
“The stigma around addiction for a number of police officers was reduced. Hundreds of officers who viewed people with substance misuse disorders as ‘scumbags’ or ‘dirty junkies’ or people that ‘can never get better’ stated that the training changed their opinion and that they understood this as more of a public health issue rather than a moral or criminal justice problem,” Greenagel said.
Over the next few months, Greenagel’s training will reach campus security and police at Caldwell College and TCNJ. Both schools have also invited local police departments, members of the college counseling centers and senior-level administrators, he said.
“There isn't one catch-all solution. I've been critical of Governor (Chris) Christie, who has sought a lot of publicity over the last 12 months on this issue after doing very little during his first seven years in office,” Greenagel said. “I was excited when he talked publicly about reforming N.J.'s drug policies in 2010, as he was a Republican and former U.S. attorney and could, therefore, sway conservatives and law enforcement.”
As a member of the Governor's Council since 2011 and the chair of the State Heroin and Opiate Task Force from 2012-2014, Greenagel said that he was very disappointed in Christie’s lack of substantive policies and funding regarding the issue.
The N.J. Prescription Monitoring Program is not mandated, and medical students currently are not required to get any training on addiction. Greenagel said that he has a list of about a dozen more policies that he would like to see implemented and that he expects to spend much of the next decade working on them.
“We need more in-patient treatment beds and detoxes, especially for people on Medicaid or without insurance. We desperately need to regulate recovery and sober houses,” he said. “Very few social workers and drug counselors are getting the training and supervision they require, and this is something that the state (along with Rutgers) should probably do a better job of monitoring.”